Laurent Danchin – freelance writer and exhibition curator, polemical critic and French correspondent to Raw Vision – has died in Paris after a long illness. He had been a loyal supporter of this magazine since its inception, contributing enthusiastic and well-informed articles and reports that embraced a range across the lively overlapping territories of art brut, outsider art, art singulier and naïve art.
Laurent Danchin photographed during an interview of the artist Patrice Novarina
He was a tireless researcher and curator who loved to befriend individual creators, and the hundred-odd feature articles he issued over three decades established a distinctive circle of French creators active working in our busy and multiform field: Pierre Avezard, Raymond Isidore, Miguel Amate, Raphaël Lonné, Anselme Boix-Vives.
A prolific writer, Danchin bore witness to the successes and the excesses that have marked the marginal art world over the past half-century, praising fulsomely where praise was due, while waging a war against laziness and inaccuracy in the claims and appraisals manifested at international museum blockbuster exhibitions, as well as at ambitious solo shows in makeshift galleries. His publishing record is formidable and includes prefaces and introductions composed for art catalogues, along with theoretical musings regarding the themes, techniques and strategies of self-projection that characterise the outsider world. His illustrated handbook Art brut, L’instinct créateur (1989) represents a mine of information and a shrewd deployment of impressions garnered over time, while his short essays reveal a tireless concern to assess new developments or to document the quarrels and agitations of a long list of philosophers, aesthetes and pioneering collectors. His discerning gaze saw through any sham or shameful manipulation, and installed a constant standard of fairness and imaginative response that shed an even light upon the dozens of marginal artists he loved and defended. His personal favourites were many and ranged from bona fide outsiders like the painters Marcel Storr and Germain Tessier or his hero, the environmentalist Chomo (Roger Chomeaux), to awkward borderline cases such as the disturbed Surrealist Antonin Artaud or the founding father of art brut himself, Jean Dubuffet himself, to whom he devoted an erudite monograph: Jean Dubuffet, peintre-philosophe (1988).
Ever alert to artistic invention, Danchin organised a section on contemporary fabric art (The Inspired Needle) at the international trienniale ‘INSITA’ in Bratislava in 2000, with pieces by Rosa Zarkhikh and Marie-Rose Lortet; he once coaxed a secretive mediumistic artist called Marie-Jeanne Gil into showing her work. He was a leading activist in the campaign to rescue Pierre Avezzevard’s playful merry-go-round when it was threatened with destruction in the late 1990s, rolling up his sleeves and helping reconstruct the work at the Fabuloserie museum.
Danchin played a part in the wider effort to preserve those unwitting masterworks that hover at the frontier of ‘high culture’ and challenge the very foundations of creativity by dispensing with authorised themes and imposed standards. In recent years, he and an artist friend, Jean-Luc Giraud, have worked in tandem on a website literary project called Mycélium, a flexible network source of ideas and images, now sadly curtailed after an experimental exhibition, "Génie savant, génie brut" (2014), that juxtaposed artists of genius in both academic and self-taught spheres.
Laurent Danchin was a social animal and loved busy meetings and encounters with newcomers lost in the dark corners of the Lausanne museum. For many years a teacher in a lycée at Nanterre, he was a great humourist and loved to bring anecdotes to a group conversation, often standing his ground before retreating a few shuffling steps, prior to moving quickly forward again to deliver a punchline that released a burst of general laughter. He cultivated many friendships, and while devoted to home life with his wife Francine and his talented violinist daughter, Clara, actually managed to travel widely as a kind of outsider art ambassador. He will be remembered for his loyalty to his friends, his sharp intellect and his ceaseless curiosity.
The last time I met Laurent was at the Outsider Art Fair held in Paris in 2015, after his first operation. He was cock-a-hoop about his discovery of a new path of expression – he had just started his autobiography and the project seemed to fill him with utter joy. He will be sorely missed.
by Roger Cardinal